A repost from last year that fits in with recent discussion:
I believe that all teachers must make their own decisions about how they use CI, but the opposite may also be true, that we should be mindful of the dangers of straying too far from the gold mine, the formula for Coke, that Blaine discovered in the form of the Three Steps of TPRS.
In the thread about PQA Eric once said:
…the goal: compelling + comprehensible input. How you get that is up to the individual teacher. TPRS is unique among TCI methods because it also has the goal of “concentrated input” – heavily targeted -and aims for 100% comprehensibility and translatability….
…instead of PQA, you could do a different story with the same structures, a parallel story, or simply do twice as many “events/locations” (e.g. usually 3, but can be 6) within one story. The more you stick to the script, the less improvisation….
…if students have larger recognition vocabularies, then there will be more sources of CI available to them, they would be able to make more sense of the outside world, so in the long-run there’d be more acquisition opportunities….
I do feel that the idea that PQA can be dropped out of the three steps, that it is not totally necessary, is not true and represents a challenge to everything I have learned personally in my own comprehensible input classroom over the years. I have just spent fifteeen years challenging them myself to see if they could be shifted, broken, toyed with, improved upon, dolled up, etc. In that effort I even came up with new ideas that look kind of alternative but aren’t really. What makes comprehensible input work in my own classroom is the Three Steps. They don’t have to be called that, but they are the DNA of this approach whatever they are called, and that includes the PQA part.
The order of establishing meaning of a very limited amount of specific targets (one or two or three and that’s it), then using them to personalize, specifically personalize, with a view to doing that and nothing else during that time we call PQA, could be compared to the building of an airplane. In Step One we get the materials (establish meaning) and assemble the plane. In Step Two we pack our students into the plane and fly it in the form of a story, with some planes getting higher off the ground than others. Then in Step Three we land the plane, with all our students happier for the trip, in better touch now and able to read the landscape just traversed when they couldn’t even see it before the trip.
In the old way of teaching languages, without these specific steps, kids just studied the landscape as it was described in a book, and came away with nothing real about the language. What brought the success was the fact that we built the plane as chief design engineers, flew it as pilots, and landed it, and the kids had a real language experience.
As opposed to this from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, in taking a swipe at his own experience in school:
…la géographie, c’est exact, m’a beaucoup servi. Je savais reconnaître, du premier coup d’oeil, la Chine de l’Arizona. C’est très utile, si l’on est égaré pendant la nuit….
…it’s true that Geography class helped me a lot. I was able to distinguish China from Arizona just by a glance out of the cockpit. It was really helpful if I lost my bearings at night….
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Le Petit Prince, Ch. 1 – translation mine
OK starting to ramble. But here’s the thing. We need those steps in that order. Those steps keep us in bounds and simple and all we have to do is make sure that we fly the plane slowly enough so that our students can absorb the landscape below. Our teaching loses focus when we don’t stay in bounds and go slowly enough. There are too many forces that require us as classroom teachers in American school buildings to stay with the steps, in my opinion:
1. the students are largely unmotivated. For them, the experience that they have in our classes is motivated by vastly different factors than our own. In many cases it is like night and day in terms of motivation.
2. the students are being graded (absurd) so that for them, unlike us, the experience of a language becomes a kind of burden, and not at all the free and joyful experience that it is for L1 learners when they are very young.
3. the students are forced to learn. This is different from being unmotivated and being labeled with a grade. It is the worst part of all and can destroy the joy of teaching for us. Forced instruction is a yoke around the necks of our students’ natural curiosity.
4. it is obvious to me personally that when we go shallow and wide with too much vocabulary the kids don’t understand us, and yet many of us do that anyway. The Three Steps with their focus on just a few words for the entire class period prevent us from going too shallow and too wide.
5. We have too many students and too many words to teach them. The classes are so big and the language is so big. We get overwhelmed by the bigness of our jobs. There are some of us in this group who quietly go to work each day in what I consider an impossible situation. The Californians are the most burdened. Hosler is another, but he likes it. He wants nine classes. He is an animal.
6. We haven’t really figured out a way to reach younger kids in this work. There I said it. Go look at the elementary teachers’ Forum area on this site. They aren’t talking. Is there an elementary TPRS list anywhere on the even on the internet?
That’s just a sample of the many things that work against us and would then require that we keep things as simple as we can in our classrooms at all costs.
As I go back and read posts from past years I often see the names of really strong, dedicated teachers who are no longer heard from in this group, who do not show up at conferences, and have just kind of disappeared. I wonder what happened to them? I know. They disappeared. I am talking about really strong CI teachers who just jumped professions, ran from buildings. What is going on with that?
OK it’s turned into a real ramble now, but let me see if I can tie down this thought. What I hear you saying, Eric, applies marvelously to language learning in general but not to what we are able to actually do with all the limitations thrust on us. I think that’s my point, right there.
The fact is that we absolutely must keep our instruction simple in order to survive in this profession. We can’t translate too much. We need those kids focused on the message, not thinking about the vehicle being used to deliver it, working at their jobs, helping us keep our classes simple, especially our quiz writers and story writers and timers and interactive whiteboard artists, not to mention our PQA counters. The Three Steps set up and support and allow those jobs to happen, within their context. Their order and those jobs are crucial to our mental health and survival in the profession.
I think the big problem is that many of us harbour an underlying false thought, that we have enough time to teach the language for actual results, when the truth is that we don’t have enough time – there are too many words and too little time. We become Jeremys in the Yellow Submarine:
“Ad hoc loc and quid pro quo! So little time, so much to know!”
The Yellow Submarine
We load up the planes with too many students and too many words and start flying for Babel Airlines, but it just doesn’t work.
So how does all that relate to PQA? I don’t know, it’s a ramble. But it does in fact related to PQA, because PQA, the way I understand it, targets a very limited amount of words and so those few words become the focus of the entire class and, along with SLOW, during the flight over the CI landscape, we are able to reach our destination of a nice landing at the end of the flight, having read the landscape below.
Each kid had a window seat, they were able to see clearly during the flight because it was all so repetitively simple and slow and interesting, there were no clouds in the way, nobody slept, because they all wanted to look out and see what was down there, because it was where they lived, and it was all new and interesting to them, the way life should be for students. The flight would have been chaos without the personalized slow repetitive focus on just a few structures. The plane could not have flown without the PQA.
What does that have to do with all those great teachers disappearing from the fledgling airfields of comprehensible input based flight? I think it is because they went too wide with their vocabulary goals, had too many students, had to grade too many kids, got crazy with this work and worked far harder than they should have for the paltry amount of money they received for it, not to mention that they had too many stupid people opposing them, they had too many students whose iphones had taken over their interests in life to the point of making school an unpleasant interruption during their day, plus they had trouble teaching slowly enough, having forgotten that the language is far too vast for them to teach in the time they had, and they get tired, because they didn’t keep things simple, and had all these new ideas which somehow they couldn’t keep up with which ended up biting them in the ass, and they forgot the tight effectiveness of the deceptively simple Three Steps and so lost control of their teaching, which led them to go to their partners and say, “Anything would be easier to do than this for a living!” and they disappeared from our ranks, barely walking away from their crashed airplanes in exactly the same way that Saint-Exupéry did in real life so many times.
To end the ramble, I will cut and paste only a partial list of things we have to do as teachers below. A PLC member sent these and I can’t remember who it was to credit you so thank you whoever you are. We may want to rethink some of this:
– Promethean board
– managing our school websites with oral reading matched to the story, constant communication with classes
– keeping up with homework
– keeping up with students on plans
– generating stories, working in the novels
– getting the World Language Games going
– creating interesting media rich culture presentations
– finding good songs to sing, teaching sign language
– attending to mountains of email
– emailing colleagues/admins/parents and filing the results
– cleaning out the files of stories
– planning lessons for language labs
– cleaning out the files of quizzes
– locating YouTube urls and saving them and updating them
– screening YouTube and other media for objectionable content
– creating PP and SB/Promethean files and maintaining those files
– maintaining photo and image files
– using and maintaining a grade book system including keeping up to the minute grades
– providing copies to students weekly
– posting them to the district-parent access site
– understanding the ever-changing “files” jpg, MP4
– utilizing some sort of vocal/aural system i.e. Dropbox or Google Voice
– ipadish devices
– designing and implementing the district required number of student-computer-use-in-the-grant-funded-computer-lab – lessons per marking period’
– using grade-tracking and evaluation systems (and relearning one every 3 years when the district changes systems)
– creating written reports about the results
– not to mention written reports on exactly how we are using technology for the technology committee
– pointless meetings
– trainings with P.E. teachers
– writing sub plans
– reading the reports of sub plans, which make no sense
– parents nights
– parent phone calls
– calling roll
– adjunct duty (being at student events because we have to oversee them, not because we want to encourage our – students)
– submit letters every year to justify yearly events that have been approved for years
– honors/AP nights
– oversee students at pep and other assemblies
– proctor standardized testing
– safeguard all the materials for standardized testing
– know procedures for all emergencies (earthquake, fire, intruder, etc.)
– explain emergency procedures to students
– oversee emergency drills
– enforce tardy rules
– enforce cell phone and other devices rules
The bottom line here is that if we try to do too much, teach too much, be too much, we will not be able to get anything done, as per this precious quote from Thomas Merton:
…To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone with everything is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his work for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful….